Sunday, December 14, 2014

Should They Stay Together?

A few weeks ago, we discussed the seal on piccolo headjoints and what steps to take if you think the headjoint is not sealing properly (click here to revisit that post).  Now that we understand how the seal is created, and how the headjoint and tenon fit to create this seal, we can address another topic -- leaving the headjoint on the piccolo in the case.  There are lots of cases out there, single or combination cases, that allow you to place the piccolo, fully assembled, in the case.  Most single cases, including cases for Powell Signature and Custom piccolos, have one section for the body, and one section for the headjoint -- and there is a good reason for this!

Powell's repair technician, Rachel Baker, reminded us that when you assemble the piccolo, the (tenon) cork compresses to create the seal.  When you disassemble to the piccolo, the cork has a chance to expand and "breathe" a bit.  If the piccolo is kept assembled in the case, then the cork stays compressed.  Rachel told us that a cork that is continually compressed would then need to be replaced twice as often. So, technically, yes, it would be okay to keep the piccolo assembled in a case, but it is most definitely not recommended by our repair technician.  Help give your piccolo's tenon cork a longer and healthier life by using a case that keeps the piccolo headjoint and body apart in separate sections.  Sometimes separation is not such a bad thing...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cleaning a Tarnished Footjoint

Ever wonder how tarnish is removed?  Well, this week, we had a very tarnished flute in the shop for repair, and flute finisher Karl Kornfeld captured the process of cleaning the footjoint...

Footjoint disassembled before cleaning:
Dipping the footjoint in the ultrasonic cleaner:

How it looks after the ultrasonic cleaner:
Dipping footjoint in acid tarnish cleaner:
After the acid bath:
Applying metal polish:
Polishing Keys:
Finished keys:
Applying TarniShield: 

The clean footjoint body:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Quick Fix for a Piccolo Pop!

In a previous post, we learned that you can check if your piccolo headjoint is sealing by doing the "pop test" (follow this link to the read the previous post).  But, if you don't hear a pop and feel that there might be a leak, what can you do in a quick fix?  We checked with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out!

The answer is actually quite simple -- cork grease!  Rachel told us that you should put cork grease on the body tenon cork.  The grease will help moisten up the cork and create a better seal.  Definitely made sense to us as we recalled another previous post where the application of cork grease helped to solve a mysterious problem with a piccolo.  The problem in that situation turned out to be a headjoint that wasn't sealing properly (click here to read that post).

However, as we got more into the conversation with Rachel, she mentioned a couple of other points about the seal on a piccolo headjoint.  She told us that when it comes to the seal of a piccolo headjoint, the metal fit is the most important.  In fact, when she is working on piccolos, she makes sure there is a proper metal-to-metal fit and then checks the cork fit. She said the cork is actually a fail safe so that if, over time, the metal-to-metal connection does not seal properly, the cork is a backup.  In fact, she even demonstrated this with a piccolo at her bench -- which did not have a cork because a new cork was going to be put on the tenon.  She showed us that even without the cork, the headjoint was sealing, and we could certainly feel it!

So, if you are having issues with your piccolo, don't forget about the headjoint -- and cork grease.  It's a "quick fix" but actually might have more longevity than you'd expect!

Piccolo from Rachel's bench that did not have a cork -- yet. 
Metal-to-metal seal is the most important.  Red arrow points to the inner ring that goes inside the top of the tenon (yellow arrow pointing to where inner ring goes).  The top of the body tenon will then fit into the headjoint between the headjoint's inner and outer rings.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Standing Waters

Repair technician Rachel Baker swabbing out a kingwood Custom piccolo.

We all want the best for our flutes and know that the question of humidifying wooden ones in particular comes up quite often. Should you use a humidifier?  Is it overkill?  Can it cause more problems?

Well, we've gotten feedback from our staff, customers, and artists, and we realize that there really is no "one size fits all" answer to this question.  Some people do not use humidifiers and travel from place to place, climate to climate, and have no problems.  Of course, if you are playing your wooden instruments regularly and taking proper care of them, you may not need to use a humidifier.  In a previous post on wooden flute maintenance, we shared the following:
Our wood technician assures us that the best way maintain a wooden flute is to play it regularly.  If you play it for a while, leave it for several months (untouched), and then pick it up to play it, you will notice differences which may make playing the instrument difficult.  However, if it is played consistently, the wood will be acclimated to patterns of being played, swabbed out, placed in the case, and then played again.  
However, one thing that did surprise us recently in a conversation we overheard was the idea that wooden instruments do not need to be humidified because there is enough moisture in the bore after playing.  Hmm.  Well, yes, there is certainly moisture in there after playing, but you do not want to leave it that way!  With wooden instruments, you have to make sure that you thoroughly swab out the bore of the body and headjoint.  Never leave moisture in your wooden instrument -- it could lead to all kinds of problems, including cracking.  

However, we don't want to forget about metal instruments when thinking about "standing waters."  They are certainly not good for the inside of metal flutes, so proper swabbing is crucial there as well.  And, make sure to never put anything in the flute bore and leave it there to absorb the moisture -- like those "fuzzy" looking accessories.  If you use something like that inside the flute to absorb moisture and leave it in there, well, you'll only be left with something moist and fuzzy inside your flute with no place for the moisture to go!

So, remember, swab out your flutes and piccolos thoroughly, take good care to keep them clean, check to make sure everything looks alright inside and out, and if you have any questions or concerns, don't let it wait -- contact your repair technician.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Powell Plug-O's (left) and Powell Sonaré Plug-O's (right).
Powell offers a great option for converting an open hole flute to closed hole -- and back.  This option is (as you may have guessed) -- Plug-O's.  They are small, round, sterling silver inserts with a rubber O ring, and they stay in place by press fitting into open hole keys.  The nice thing about Plug-O's is that provide a "convertible" option that is not permanent.

Side view showing metal Plug-O with black rubber O ring.
Plug-O's are easy to insert and remove.  You can also purchase them online through the VQP Shop. If you do choose to purchase them, make sure to save the package -- especially the black platsic tool that holds them.  You will need the tool to remove the Plug-O's, and the back of the package includes complete instructions on how to insert and remove the Plug-O's.  If you do have trouble, don't try to force them out with any other object -- call your repair technician. One thing to note  -- if you use Plug-Os with a wooden flute, you will not be able to remove them yourself (you will need to call your repair technician for this).

Need help finding the right size Plug-O?  Follow this link to read our previous post on Plug-O sizing. Also, for those who choose to use Plug-O's for an extended period of time, you may need to clean them -- and we have a previous post on cleaning them as well (click here to read it)!

Instructions on back of package.
Black plastic tool with small "

Friday, October 31, 2014

Get It Together

Last week, we spotted a flute in the repair shop with a strange indentation in the tenon.  The culprit for this damage was the repetitive motion of placing the flute on a stand (peg) at an angle.  That made us wonder -- what about putting your flute together?  Is there a right way and wrong way for that? What kind of damage could happen if you are not assembling your flute correctly?  So, we went to the repair office to chat with our repair technician, Rachel Baker.

Rachel assured us that there is no one particular correct way to assemble a flute and that there are actually different ways. We asked about one we had come across recently -- the "barrel and end of footjoint" method, where you place one hand on the barrel and one on the bottom of the footjoint. This method prevents people from placing pressure on the mechanism.  However, Rachel finds this method of holding the flute and footjoint at "far ends" not to be the best, because she said it is more difficult to get the flute straight this way. She told us that there "should be no angles" when you are assembling the flute -- and angles can certainly happen with this particular method because your hands are very far apart.

So, Rachel has a method that she showed us, and she explained more as she demonstrated.  She holds the flute (centerjoint) essentially in the same manner that she would when playing, and then she rotates the flute down so that her palm is holding it.  She then holds the footjoint in a very natural manner with her thumb closing a key cup toward the middle of the footjoint.  She feels that it is easier to get the flute together correctly when your hands are closer to the connection point.  With this type of position, you have more control, as opposed to the method where your hands are at opposite ends of the flute and footjoint.

With Rachel's method, her hands do touch the mechanism -- so, we asked if that would damage the flute.  She assured us that she has "never broken a flute putting it together this way," and that the "pressure" on the mechanism is actually lighter than one would normally exert when playing the flute.  In her words, "it's definitely not a death grip."

After meeting with Rachel, we took back a few key pointers about assembling the flute: (1) hands should be closer to the connection point to allow for more control (2) position of hands is similar to playing position (3) it is okay to touch the mechanism, because you will not exert enough pressure to damage anything.  Finally, Rachel told us that the footjoint should slide onto the flute easily -- it should not be difficult.  She shared, "If you are having a lot of trouble putting the flute together, then something else needs to be done..."

Hands at bottom of footjoint and barrel can create angles when you try to assemble flute.
Hands are very far apart this way, so it is difficult to get everything straight.
Rachel prefers to hold the footjoint this way.  It's okay to close a key cup.
She says it's okay even to put your thumb on the tubing, because there is a post underneath, and the pressure of your thumb is light.
Rachel holds the body in a position similar to a playing position.
Hand is much closer to connection point with Rachel's method.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Take a Stand

We all know how convenient it is to have instrument stands for our flutes and piccolos.  Whether you are practicing or performing, it's great to have a place to put your instrument to keep it standing securely.  However, if you are in a hurry, you may not be approaching the stand with your flute positioned correctly.  In fact, this angled approach may be something that happens regularly, and you may not even notice it.  However, this slight positioning slip could definitely damage the flute...

This week, we stopped by the repair office at Powell, and technician Rachel Baker showed us something quite interesting.  It was a flute with a curved line on the inside of the body tenon caused by an indentation on the outside. You will see it traced with a blue Sharpie marker in the photo below.  Oddly enough, the flute was sent to Rachel for regular maintenance, and the owner did not know about the indentation.  What had happened was that she had been putting her flute on a flute stand at a bit of an angle.  Since the flute was coming down on the peg at an angle, the outside ring on the top of the footjoint was pushing against the outside of the tenon.  The pressure exerted on the outside of the tenon, in turn, created an indentation that left a visible line on the inside.

So, although it may seem rudimentary to place your flute in a straight position on the stand, it could be something that is easy to overlook.  The photos below will help demonstrate what to do -- and what not to do!

Putting flute down on peg at an angle -- don't do this!
Putting flute straight down on peg -- do this!
Blue Sharpie mark shows the indentation.